“India is modernizing rapidly, but the police continue to use their old methods: abuse and threats. It’s time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix the system”.
India's police force, in terms of its organizing principles and organizational culture, has essentially remained the same for the past 200 years. This has caused, and is causing, many problems. India's police force is untrained, brutal,unprofessional, and, for the most part, does not live up to modern standards of police service. Numerous attempts at reform have failed. The situation is dire. Unlike many human right issues where there can be a genuine disagreement about the problem, there is a consensus in India among NGO's, media, human rights groups, and the citizenry, that police reform is desperately needed. However, the structure of political power and a cultural conception which is a relic of colonial times prevents any meaningful reform from being undertaken. A Supreme Court decision from 2006 that tried to direct police reform is likely to fail as well. With no real commitment to reform among elected officials and the citizenry, one is unlikely to come about. This report undertakes one aspect of police reform, that of establishing an external police complaints agency. Although some states have started experimenting with versions of such an agency, in conformity with the Supreme Court decision of 2006, the progress is severely lacking. We describe what a successful and effective police complaints agency must look like, based on comparative experience from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Israel. We then apply that experience to India's situation and conceptualize a complaints agency. Throughout this report, we are well aware that a complaints agency is not the only answer to India's police problems. Indeed, it is but one tool in what should be a toolkit of reforms. The real, and more difficult, reforms must take place within the police itself and not just by imposing an external oversight mechanism. Thus, this is but one report in a series, which will comprehensively evaluate the situation and make recommendations. As usual, carrying out our recommendations, or any serious reform recommendations for that matter, requires political will. This is also severely lacking among India's ruling powers, who at present benefit from the structure of the police. Thus, citizen involvement is urgently required to press political forces to initiate reforms. Political parties, including the ruling Congress Party, have promised police reforms, but those are still forthcoming. Although the situation is indeed dire, we hope that this report will serve as a further stepping stone in the arduous road toward reform and will provoke dialogue and discourse among concerned professionals and the citizenry.
II. Normative Source and Structure of India's Police
Under the Indian Constitution, the Police are a state concern.However, there are similarities between the states, due to three main reasons. First, all state polices are structured and regulated by the Police Act of 1861 or they have state statutes that are modeled after the 1861 Act. Second, the India Police Service is trained, recruited and managed by the central government. The service also deploys the senior offices to the states. Third, the central government maintains a coordinating role, while the state government is in charge of supervising its police force. At the district level (every state is divided into districts), there is a level of dual control. On the one hand, there is a high-ranking police officer in charge of the district (District Superintendent of Police). On the other hand, that District Superintendent is subject to the general direction and control of the District Magistrate, who belongs to the executive.This was done so as to assure executive rule over the police, which was considered essential for maintaining...